Kickoff or Kick-Off or Kick Off – Which is Correct?

Sporting events can be fun for the whole family. The energy of the crowd and the excitement of seeing someone’s favorite team make these games a popular activity.

It’s important to arrive to the stadium on time to avoid missing the start of the game. In American football, the beginning of the game is referred to as the kickoff. Or is it kick-off? What about kick off?

You have likely seen the word spelled all three ways in various print sources. The truth is that they are all legitimate words. The difference comes down to the context of the sentence, and how the word is used.

Between these three formulations, the word can be used as an adjective, a noun, or a verb.

What is the Difference Between Kickoff, Kick-Off, and Kick Off?

In this post, I will compare these three spellings: kickoff vs. kick-off vs. kick off.

I will outline how each spelling functions within a sentence and provide examples so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will make choosing kick-off or kickoff or kick off a bit easier.

When to Use Kickoff

definition of kickoff definition of kick off definitionWhat does kickoff mean? Kickoff can be a noun or an adjective.

As a noun, kickoff means the beginning of something. In the case of American football, the kickoff is literally one team kicking the ball to the other team. In other contexts, though, kickoff is more figurative than literal.

Here are a few examples,

  • The kickoff is at 1:00pm tomorrow, so we need to leave the house by 10:30am to arrive to the stadium on time and find our seats.
  • The defense has been reeling since the kickoff, and the opposing team has scored 28 points.

As an adjective, kickoff describes something that comes first, whether the first play in a sporting event, the first seminar in a professional conference, or many other things.

For example,

  • Jen and Mark threw a kick-off party to celebrate their son’s first game in the NFL.
  • The kick-off event was a 90-minute lecture by Bill Gates.
  • The NFL’s latest attempt to reduce the number of kickoff returns did not produce particularly promising results during the preseason. –The Washington Post

The closed compound kickoff is more common in the American English than British English. The AP Stylebook prescribes kickoff as an adjective or a noun.

Outside of North America, many publications hyphenate the compound.

When to Use Kick-Off

define kickoff define kick offWhat does kick-off mean? Kick-off is a variant spelling of the closed compound kickoff. It has all of the same meanings and functions as kickoff, which means it can be a noun or an adjective, but it is used in different language communities.

  • The unhyphenated kickoff is the preferred spelling in American English.
  • The hyphenated kick-off is the preferred spelling in British English.

The below graphs show the preference for each language community.

American English:

kickoff versus kick-off

British English:

kickoff versus kick off

These graphs chart the use of kick-off vs. kickoff in American and British English, respectively, and, as you can see, the preferences are almost the complete opposite.

When to Use Kick Off

What does kick off mean? When separated into two words, kick off is a verb phrase. As you might think, it means to start or resume something, especially a sporting event.

For example,

  • Clayton Kershaw kicked off the third inning by striking out Ender Inciarte.
  • We can’t kick off the party until Alyssa arrives. She is the life of the party.
  • The New Mexico Bowl will help kick off the college postseason on Dec. 16. –USA Today

Kick off, two words, functions like other phrasal verbs: drop off, follow up, and log in.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Remembering the difference between kickoff, kick-off, and kick off is as simple as remembering which part of speech each word is.

  • Kickoff is the noun and adjective spelling in American English.
  • Kick-off is the noun and adjective spelling in British English.
  • Kick off is a verb phrase in both language communities.

Kickoff and kick-off can both be nouns or adjectives; kick off is only a verb. Since the word kick in the phrase kick off is itself a verb, you can use the meaning of kick as a reminder that kick off is a verb phrase.


Is it kickoff or kick-off or kick off? The only thing separating these three spellings is punctuation and spaces, but they do function as different parts of speech.

  • Kickoff and kickoff are either nouns or adjectives.
  • Kick off is a phrasal verb.

Despite being similar, they cannot be substituted for each other without producing a grammatical error.